Last modified on 7 December 2014, at 22:27

Lencan languages

Ethnicity: Lenca people
El Salvador, Honduras
Linguistic classification: Lencan
(possibly Macro-Chibchan)
ISO 639-3: len
Glottolog: lenc1239[1]

Lencan is a small family of indigenous Mesoamerican languages.


There are two attested Lencan languages, both extinct (Campbell 1997:167).

The languages are not closely related; Swadesh (1967) estimated 3,000 years since separation. Arguedas Cortés (1987) reconstructs Proto-Lencan with 12 consonants (including ejectives) and 5 vowels.

Their external relationships are disputed. Inclusion within Macro-Chibchan is often proposed; Campbell (1987) reported that there was no solid evidence for such a connection, but Constenla (2005) proposed regular correspondence between Lencan, Misumalpan, and Chibchan. Another proposal links Lencan with the Xincan language family (Campbell 1997).


The Proto-Lencan homeland was most likely in central Honduras (Campbell 1997:167).

At the time of the Spanish conquest of Central America in the early 16th century, the Lenca language was spoken by the Lenca people in a region that incorporates northwestern and southwestern Honduras, and neighboring eastern El Salvador, east of the Lempa river. While the Lenca people continue to live in the same region today, Lyle Campbell reported in the 1970s that he found only 1 speaker of the language in Chilanga, El Salvador, and none in Honduras. Campbell also concluded that Salvadoran Lenca was a distinct language from Honduran Lenca.

The language is reportedly extinct, and was also spoken by the Lenca people of central Honduras. Due to persecution by the Honduran army in the 1980s and 1990s, who violently repressed them due to their fighting for a more equitable distribution of land and a fair agrarian reform, many chose not to speak it for a long time to avoid being easily identified by their persecutors.

Indigenous movements in both countries are attempting to revive the language, and recent press reports from Honduras indicate that elementary school textbooks in Salvadoran Lenca have been distributed to public schools in the region.

A 2002 novel by Roberto Castillo, La guerra mortal de los sentidos chronicles the adventures of the "Searcher for the Lenca Language."[2]


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Lencan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ "Beatriz Cortez ¿Dónde están los indígenas? La identidad nacional y la crisis de la modernidad en La guerra mortal de los sentidos de Roberto Castillo". Retrieved 2012-09-30. 


  • Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Constenla Umaña, A. (1981). Comparative Chibchan Phonology. (Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
  • Constenla Umaña, Adolfo. (1991). Las lenguas del Área Intermedia: Introducción a su estudio areal. Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, San José.
  • Constenla Umaña, Adolfo. (1995). Sobre el estudio diacrónico de las lenguas chibchenses y su contribución al conocimiento del pasado de sus hablantes. Boletín del Museo del Oro 38-39: 13-56.
  • Fabre, Alain. 2005. Diccionario etnolingüístico y guía bibliográfica de los pueblos indígenas sudamericanos: LENCA. [1]
  • Hemp, Eric. 1976. "On Earlier Lenca Vowels". International Journal of American Linguistics 42(1): 78-79.
  • Lehman, Walter. 1920. Zentral-Amerika. see pp. 700–719 (Salvadoran Lenca) and pp. 668–692 (Honduran Lenca).

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